We’ve already established that Auburn is College Football Loki, maker of mischief and ruiner of plans even when there is no clear gain to Auburn in the process. But Auburn does not have a monopoly on this role. 355 miles northwest, an understudy of sorts has spent decades causing similar catastrophes: the Memphis Tigers. If Auburn is the McDonald’s of Anguish (“Billions and Billions Served”), Memphis is the Krystal. Or the White Castle, depending on your geographic background.
Arkansas must have been so pumped at the start of the 1992 season. They’d just joined the SEC, jumping out of the soon-to-crumble Southwest Conference before any of their former colleagues could beat them to it. They’d had a decent bounce-back year in ‘91, improving their record by three games and getting a spot in the Independence Bowl. And the Razorbacks had a new offensive coordinator!
Whatever optimism existed quickly vanished with a 10-3 home loss to The Citadel to open the year. (Great work, Greg.) Head coach Jack Crowe got fired immediately, and defensive coordinator Joe Kines took over.
That’s right, this Joe Kines.
The Razorbacks recovered the next week, beating fellow SEC newcomer South Carolina by 38 on the road. That was followed by an uncompetitive loss to Alabama, but the Tide would go on to finish the season undefeated and win the national title that year, so there’s no real shame in that.
And then, in Week 4, Arkansas traveled to the Liberty Bowl.
If you think Arkansas was kind of a mess heading into this game, well, Memphis State (they didn’t go by the University of Memphis until 1994) was even messier. The Tigers had started the season 0-3, with every loss featuring a blown lead late in the fourth quarter. On the Tuesday before the Arkansas game, 80 players who pronounced themselves fed up with the coaching staff boycotted practice.
Then Memphis State proceeded to beat Arkansas 22-6, and that seemingly benign score is hiding a lot of Arkansan stress, considering that the Razorbacks:
- lost four turnovers (the Tigers, ever the supportive dance partner, did too)
- didn’t score on offense at all (those six points came off a kickoff return in the fourth quarter)
- finished the night with 157 yards of offense and seven first downs
- had four punts blocked by the same person
I have found no video of this game, which is a blessing and a curse. I don’t want to see how Memphis State turned four turnovers and four blocked punts into 22 total points. Most teams would take that bounty and bury the knife, effectively ending the game by going up by five scores. Whatever the Tigers did, I can only imagine it was like watching someone successfully beat a person unconscious with a pool noodle. After the game, Kines said, “If we hadn’t fought defensively, they would have scored 100.”
But I really do want to see how Ken Irvin, a sophomore Memphis State cornerback, blocked all four of those punts, specifically blocks three and four.
A punt block’s a bit like a museum theft. The first time it happens, the culprit matters, but you’re really more focused on correcting any weaknesses in your security setup to prevent future purloinings. The second time, if it’s the same thief, you start to focus on that person. What are they doing that’s working? How can you adjust to stop them in particular? The third time the thief robs your museum, you’re just furious. It’s unacceptable! It’s embarrassing! It will not happen ag-WHAT DO YOU MEAN HE JUST STOLE ANOTHER PAINTING??
Here’s the cherry on this agony sundae. Irvin set a single game record for punts blocked against Arkansas and, according to NCAA records, didn’t block a single kick in any other game in his entire college career. If God assigned four blocks to Irvin at his birth, he used them all against Arkansas.
That was the right choice!
Memphis State turned things around a bit following this victory, winning their next four before losing to Ole Miss and Tennessee on the way to a 6-5 season. Arkansas did deliver a very painful loss to the Volunteers later in the year, but the remaining balance of their 1992 slate was deeply unpleasant. Danny Ford took over the next year, with Kines moving back to defensive coordinator. (The Razorbacks would promptly lose to the Tigers again, this time 6-0 at home). Greg Davis later wound up running the offense that won Texas a national championship with Vince Young, by which I mean “Vince Young won a national championship with a fully unfurled Greg Davis parachute strapped to his back.” And Ken Irvin played in the NFL for ten seasons. Best I can tell, he didn’t block a punt there, either.